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The digital storytelling community is engrossed in a legal dispute between Humans of Bombay (HoB) and People of India (PoI) regarding copyright infringement. In this case, the defendant, PoI, runs www.peopleofindia.io, while the plaintiff, who is HoB, runs the well-known website www.humansofbombay.in. The central claims of this lawsuit are that HoB’s copyrighted content—which includes images, writings, films, and artistic expressions—has been misused by PoI. This article discusses the legal intricacies of the case, the contested content, and the legal arguments that were put forward on both sides.
The 2014-founded social media site Humans of Bombay (HoB) sued “People of India” (PoI), a comparable online storytelling portal, in the Delhi High Court for violating their copyright. Humans of Bombay Stories Pvt. Ltd, requested an injunction to stop the violation of its copyright on various kinds of content. The Instagram handle of POI, was accused by HoB of “completely replicating its business model and even the stories themselves”. Claiming to have established a “imitative platform,” they said the PoI reached out to the same individuals who were featured on their website. With millions of followers on social media, HoB amassed a large number of followers and it asserts ownership of the copyrights to their literary works. They contended that the legal dispute arose from the defendant i.e. POI, who are using their creative and literary works without their authorization. HoB served PoI with cease-and-desist notices but the alleged infringement continued. They also alleged that PoI has tampered with the agreements that HoB had with the individuals who depicted their life stories for their websites. It can be said that the legal dispute was mainly centred on originality of the content, copyright limitations, and the competitive landscape of storytelling platforms.
[Image Sources : Shutterstock]
In this legal tussle between HoB and PoI, the main issue which captivates the world of digital storytelling is copyright dispute. HoB, has alleged that PoI unlawfully replicated their copyrighted content that fills life in their stories. HoB has been active since 2014 and has a substantial following through its interviews, posts, write-ups, and videos leading to millions of followers and hundreds of millions of views. It is of no question that HoB has become a hub for brand partnerships, social advocacy, and it’s presence was widely felt during the IPL ( Indian Premier League). The crux of the case is that HoB claimed that PoI imitated and, at times, copied their content. In addition, it was alleged that PoI wrongfully interfered in their contract with people who shared their stories on their website. The fundamental questions was about ownership and protection of digital content in the storytelling platform. It puts forth the challenging balance act between copyright restrictions, unique content, and the cutthroat market for storytelling platforms.
Legal or Ethical Issues
- Copyright Infringement: The most important legal issue of the case is that of Copyright Infringement. The plaintiff, Humans of Bombay alleged that People of India used their copyrighted contents without their authorization.
- Ownership of Copyright: The key question which was determined was regarding the ownership of copyrighted content especially videos, literary works and photographs.
- Consent and Agreements: The main issue raised in the case is regarding the written consent obtained from the plaintiff and their agreements, ensuring that the plaintiff has agreed to the use by the defendant.
- Jurisdiction: There is a jurisdictional issue, since some of the subjects’ home base was in Delhi. This as a result affects where the case is heard and which law would be applied.
- Plagiarism and Content Originality: Plagiarism and content originality are the issues around which the case revolves. Both HoB & PoI are storytelling ventures, and their lies an ethical obligation with respect to original work.
- Interference in Contracts: The moral component entails whether PoI interfered with HoB’s contract with the individuals sharing their life stories.
- Transparency and Attribution: Transparency about the source and the content, providing attribution to those sharing their story gives an ethical outlook to the storytelling platform.
- Imitation vs. Inspiration: The ethical question that arises is regarding the line between inspiration and imitation. Platforms that share stories should avoid imitation in their work and ideas.
- Respect for Intellectual Property: Respect for intellectual property is a fundamental ethical principle. Certain rights are provided to content creators to protect their creative work and such principles are held by those platforms.
- Fair Competition: Fair Competition is an ethical issue and should be considered with seriousness. Such storytelling platforms shouldn’t engage in any such unethical activities for their benefits.
Key Arguments and Positions
- Humans of Bombay, affirms that People of India copied that content which leads to copyright infringement of their work.
- The plaintiff argued about being the owner of the copyrighted content it produced and shared on its platform.
- The plaintiff claims to have a written agreement with the individuals sharing their life stories on their platform.
- The plaintiff i.e. HoB contends that PoI copied a substantial portion of their work which involves content, images and narratives.
- The defendant i.e. People of India denies direct copying and argues that similarity between the content may be due to common subjects, source and settings.
- The defendant refuses the claims of HoB of copying and infringement of their work. Ans denied violation of Copyright.
- The defendant argues that having been operating in a competitive platform and therefore sharing of similar stories should be done without any copyright concerns.
- The parties were ordered by the court to refrain from using each other’s copyrighted works which includes photographs, videos and literal content.
- The court provided this clarification that the material that users have submitted themselves as opposed to having the platforms commission it, does not carry a copyright claim.
- Also, that no damages or costs were awarded to either parties.
The legal decision emphasises on the highlights of protecting creative expression as well as recognising the co-existence of multiple storytelling platforms without replicating each other’s work.
The Bench of Justice Prathiba Singh made the following observations by relying upon the Apex Court decisions in Eastern Book Company v. D.B Modak (2007) and R.G. Anand v. M/s. Delux Films (1978):
“26. The present case raises the classic issue concerning the idea-expression dichotomy. The settled legal position as per the law enunciated above is that no copyright can be claimed in an idea. However, the expression of any idea cannot be imitated or copied, and if expression is copied, the same would constitute infringement of the copyright under Section 51 of the Copyright Act, 1957.”
“27. In the context of the present suit, the idea at the core is of a storytelling platform. There can be no monopoly over the running of such a platform. However, all such platforms that share stories about various individuals/subjects would be attaching/incorporating their own creative ways to communicate and disseminate the said stories, which constitute the expression. Such expression is protectable under Copyright law.”
“28. In a story telling platform, the following aspects could constitute the creative aspects:
(a) Images, literary content, and the manner in which particular stories are depicted would be exclusive to the platforms themselves.
(b) If any photographs and videos are commissioned by such platforms, then the copyright in the said photographs and videos would vest in the respective platforms, as such content would qualify for protection under the Copyright Act, 1957.
(c) Literary content i.e., the manner in which a particular story of a subject is written/articulated, is the literary work of a particular author who might have written it.
(d) Further, subjects could be submitting photographs which form part of their own collection, to different platforms. If such photographs are reproduced by various platforms, then such platforms cannot claim any rights in such content. However, if the photograph is one which is commissioned by the platform itself, then the platform would hold copyright in the said content.”
Implications and Consequences:
In the case of HoB V. PoI emphasises was laid on the need of a strong copyright protection in the digital world to prevent infringement of content creators’ work. It puts light on the need for ethical content sharing by respecting Intellectual Property Rights and encouraging originality with legal boundaries. Content creators must ensure Copyright compliance to avoid legal conflict. Additionally, this case may also encourage adoption of ADR i.e. Alternate Dispute Resolution methods which would lead to reduced conflicts, costs and duration. While fostering competition and originality it sets a precedent for future digital content disputes and guiding intellectual property protection.
The verdict in the case of Humans of Bombay v. People of India establish a standard for the creator community to ideally and significantly contribute to the protection of the original content that takes a great deal of effort to produce. The Delhi High Court ruled that the copyrighted works of People of India and Humans of Bombay, two storytelling platforms, could not be used by either. The court stressed that certain terms were agreed upon by both parties. This case will be acting as a precedent for such digital content related cases in future. It lays emphasis on fair competition in the digital realm which can exist within the harmonious pact between creativity and copyright.
Author: Priyanka Kumari, a student at Chotanagpur Law College, Ranchi, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.